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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
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9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
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11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

The Dodgers Author Talks Shop
2004-11-04 07:38
by Jon Weisman

Glenn Stout, whose book with Richard A. Johnson, The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball, was excerpted Wednesday on Dodger Thoughts, also answered some quick questions this week about the book's creation.

How long did this take you to research and write? Well, that depends on what is meant by "research." In a sense, all my books in some way build on my base of baseball knowledge that has been built over a lifetime.

But in a more direct way I would say this book probably began in the mid-1990s, when I was researching and writing a book on Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines, Walker 1997). That book alerted me to the fact even for a person as well-known as Robinson, there were vast areas of his story that were lesser known. For example, the role the black press played in making certain that when anyone from the major leagues went looking for a black player, there was already a player they had "pre-selected" to break the color line. That was Jackie Robinson. An old sportswriter in the African American press, Doc Kountze, tipped me off to this in the late 1980s. The series of oddities that took place during Robinsonís spring with the Dodgers in 1947 is another example.

In short, throughout my whole career, which started out writing about Boston sports history, I continually stumbled across untold stories or perspectives about even the best-known subjects. I found this true while researching and writing both Red Sox Century and Yankees Century, and knew that the Dodgers would be similarly fertile, particularly because most books about the team were either just about the Dodgers in Brooklyn, or just about them in L.A.

Red Sox Century, which was published in 2000, was a book Richard Johnson and I discussed doing the first time we met, back in 1986. By the time we started working on it in about 1996, we knew the Yankees were the next logical subject, and then the Dodgers. Those three teams, along with the Cardinals and a few others, like the Cubs and Giants, are baseballís signature franchises. Actual aggressive work one the project began shortly after I finished Yankees Century in the fall of 2001. I start by reading everything to put together a timeline of significant events, then bury myself in microfilm to ferret out what actually happened. I didnít go to Los Angeles (although Iíve been there before) but I did spend a week in Brooklyn. The writing part takes place very quickly Ė over about six months Ė but then again, Iím getting faster at it.

Other than the basic idea of creating a comprehensive history of the team, did you have any specific goals for this book? Iím not interested in repeating stories that have been told in other books. As much as possible, I try to build the books from the best historical record that still exists, which essentially means from old newspaper stories. I try not to assume that anything previously written in book form is correct but start new, without prejudice, and just write what I find, telling the story season to season.

Specific to this book, I wanted to write about the Dodgers as a single story, not as two teams in two places during two different time periods. For old Brooklyn Dodger fans, I hope to show them that the L.A. edition of the team shares some characteristics born in Brooklyn. For L.A. fans, I hope the book delivers a past they previously knew relatively little about. The book is one story; the Dodgers are one team, I think fans whoíve limited themselves to either just the Brooklyn Dodgers or the L.A. Dodgers have missed out. The Dodger story is bigger than either place. Thatís also why I began the book with a prologue, about Roy Campanellaís accident in winter after the team had announced it was leaving Brooklyn but before they had arrived in Los Angeles. For a brief period of time, Campanella and the others were simply "Dodgers," and hopefully the prologue works to inform fans of both Brooklyn and L.A. that there is something in this book for them. It lays out the themes, foreshadows the story.

How did your process of writing this book differ from your other team books? As Iíve already described, the process was very much the same. I donít write anecdotal history Ė you know, just talking to a bunch of players and relate their anecdotes. Those books are entertaining, but often without context or much lasting value; theyíre disposable. I also try not to retell what others have already told in their books. For example, Roger Kahnís The Boys of Summer and Jane Leavyís Koufax. Both books are well known and cover a specific story from a specific perspective quite well. So I donít tell readers what those books have already told them.

But during those time periods there are still other perspectives and other stories than can add to the cumulative history Ė this book I think adds to the stories told by Kahn and Leavy. In every team history I write, I try to find the lasting personality and character of a team, and how the place they play informs that character. Here, obviously, Brooklyn and Los Angeles provide two extraordinarily strong influences that in contrast make each place stand out even more so. And along the way I always try to keep these two questions in mind Ė why do they win when they win? Why do they lose when they lose? Thatís what really matters.

When you're done with a project like this, do you remain interested in the team, or have you had about all of the Dodgers you can take for a while? I not only remain interested, Iím usually more interested, because each win and loss after Iíve written a book sort of informs what Iíve written, adding to it, or in some cases, changing what I think. That being said, I do have to turn away at a certain point and move on to the next project. You know, I finished this book about a year ago. Now I have to read it to be prepared to talk about it, because Iím already a couple projects past it. Itís very strange for me to read my own books and come across long passages that I have absolutely no recollection of writing. I find myself questioning myself. Iíll read something and go, "Really? I donít remember that," then run back to my notes in a panic to see if what I wrote really happened. I havenít stumped myself yet, but it's always interesting to me when it happens. So I figure if I have that experience reading what Iíve written, readers of the book should find it something of a discovery too. I have to admit though, that after doing one of these team books, which at 250,000 words is much longer that most books, it takes me about six months to re-charge.

What was the most surprising thing or things you learned about the team? In a sense itís all surprising, because I try not to assume I know anything in advance, but I was surprised to see the way Brooklyn had already abandoned the Dodgers before 1958 Ė even as they won a world championship in 1955, the writing was on the wall Ė crowds were down, Brooklyn was changing and people really didnít care. Thereís an awful lot of hagiography about the post-war Dodgers.

And Koufax. Absolutely incredible. After they knew he was hurt and that every game could be his last, neither he nor the organization protected him at all. He pitched more, not less, again and again and again and was remarkable. Makes you wonder what might have happened if they had been a bit more cautious with him Ė 35 starts a year as opposed to 41 or 42, 250 innings instead of 350 plus. No short rest starts, or relief appearances. If theyíd have done that after 1963 or so he might have pitched another 10 years. But they burned him out Ė something the organization has almost always done with pitchers, and in Koufaxís case he was so good the rest of the organization got incredibly lazy. Who needed hitting when Koufax wouldnít give up any runs?

Part of the reason they burned him out, I think, was those one year contracts for the managers. They had no incentive but to win now. That extracted a price. One way to think about Koufax today is to imagine Pedro Martinez at his best Ė say 1999 thru 2001 or so. But Koufax pitched almost twice as often at that level.

What do you think a current, particularly a young, Dodger fan would find most interesting of the team's early days, say pre-1940? Presuming they are already informed about the "Boys of Summer" era, I think theyíll be surprised that the team had a rich history even before then. The Dodgers were always at the forefront of the game Ė first ballpark, first admission charge, first pitcher to throw a curve ball and so on. Dodger history tells you the history of the game.

Your writing about Al Campanis' appearance on Nightline is particularly strong. You refute defenders of his conduct very lucidly. Was this a response you had ready for a while, or did you develop this point of view during your research for the book? From the time I first began writing sports history, the subject of race has always seemed to me to be overlooked, or marginalized, told as a series of events that just pop up but are rarely dealt with consistently over time. Yet race is present as an issue every day in this society. I didnít have an idea about Campanis incident in advance. Although I remembered it when it happened I hadnít looked at it closely. But his response to the questions that night wasnít just the accidental blubberings of an over-tired elderly man Ė they were identical to the doctrinaire responses of hate groups. His words weren't accidental but pre-meditated Ė he'd obviously held those opinions and had voiced them before, but privately. The way I present the story is an example of how I approach projects. I had no opinion about it beforehand, but wrote what I discovered.

What are you working on now? Well, I just published a story about the untold history of the "Curse" for, in which I reveal that a) the "Curse" is an artificial concept invented in 1986 and the reason Sox the Curse identifies Harry Frazee as the evil bastard goes all the way back to 1921 when Henry Ford incorrectly identified Frazee as a Jew in his anti-Semitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Iíve received more positive responses from readers than for anything else Iíve ever written, plus a measure of hate mail from anti-Semites and those who think the curse is cute and are pissed that I took the fun and profit out of it.

I also just finished a story on Jackie Robinsonís 1945 tryout with the Red Sox that an academic journal, The Massachusetts Historical Review, asked me to write, and Iíve recently completely juvenile biographies of Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth as part of the "Matt Christopher" series. In addition to my work as series editor for The Best American Sports Writing series, Iím currently working on a book for Scribner with Charlie Vitchers and Bobby Gray, two construction workers who were heavily involved with the cleanup of the World Trade Center, to tell the story of the cleanup from the perspective of the workers. Now that the Red Sox have won the Series, Iíll be updating Red Sox Century, and Richard Johnson and I have just agreed to write another team history, about the Cubs. This is what I do for a living. Iím very fortunate.

Is the picture (click on thumbnail for better quality) of the smiling Brooklyn Dodger at the front of the book not one of the greatest of all-time? I think it is. My partner Richard Johnson does all the photo research and captioning, and I think heís the best there is at finding images to enhance and illuminate the text. We really try to give readers two books Ė the most thorough and comprehensive written history, and the best illustrated history. Each are given equal weight.

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